From Guest Blogger Robin Williams ~ no, not THE Robin Williams, but the intriguing teller of tales, travel guru, and man of perpetual curiosity who concocted my adventure of a lifetime aboard the Wigeon of Fearn in 1963. Robin resides in Laguna Beach and after decades of organizing and filming travel tours around the world, and at an age when most men have gravitated to their Barco-loungers, still conducts Hollywood guided tours and drives a private limo for fat cats!
Tale #1 by Robin Williams ~ PAHT YAH JHELHMM
In the spring of 1963, I found an ad for a British yacht, the Wigeon of Fearn, in a yachting magazine that I purchased in a magazine shop in Hollywood (it’s still there) and put together a yacht cruise of the Mediterranean for a group of college students. Back then I was a young adventurer and would do just about anything without thinking too deeply. I just did things that were wild and wooly and never thought about problems that lay in wait. I just forged ahead.
I hired a Skipper named Jim from Dorset. I think he might still be alive because he certainly lived a healthful life as a charter boat captain. He got plenty of exercise and fresh air. He did “drink” but not drastically. Except in Bonifacio, Corsica where he suddenly wanted to move the ship to the end of the dock. He instructed us to push her along the dock and he got her going too fast. He could not stop her. He was holding the warp, and we could do nothing. So she banged into the right angled dock ahead of her and put a big dent in the bow timber. That was the only damage that we caused the Wigeon.
But back to the start of the adventure. We left from Poole to sail to Le Havre late in the afternoon in July. As we motored across the English Channel the Skipper Jim came down to the saloon and took me on deck. He asked me to take the wheel so he could get some sleep. He had a bunk right behind the wheel. I had been a Sea Scout when I was 16 years old and had a little experience at the wheel of a ship about the same size as the Wigeon. We immediately entered the shipping lanes of the strait with ships coming from both directions. Luckily I could tell they were in single file and following each other. Within a few seconds I had two ships bearing down on me but I could tell which direction they were heading by their lights. So, I just timed my passing in front of the ship on my left and then I planned to fall back and let the ship on my right pass in front of me and I would pass through her wake. The skipper woke up suddenly with a start and SCREAMED at me, “PAHT YAH JHELHMM!”
Okay, can you tell what he is saying? I could not understand a thing he was saying. His Dorset accent was too thick, especially in his acute state of angst. The poor guy had never learned to swim so when he looked up and saw the huge ship bearing down on us, he went berserk. There was absolutely no way I could decipher what he was screaming, so I kept the ship on course.
He screamed the same thing a second time. I held to my position, still unable to determine what he was saying. I had suspected that he would bother me when he initially asked me to take the helm. People have done nothing but bother me all of my life. But I just followed my own instincts and kept the ship moving on course–straight ahead. Skipper Jim fell back onto his bunk and kept his mouth shut as I continued to pass behind the ship on my starboard side. Then he fell back asleep and did not wake up until the light of dawn.
Of course, what he was saying was PORT YOUR HELM, but, I did not find that out until the next morning when we arrived among the sunken ships in the port of Le Havre. If I would have turned that ship we would have been run over by the ship on my left side coming toward me but obviously going to pass behind me. I was on course and had the speed to cross his bow with plenty of room.
Aside from that first night, Skipper Jim was very competent. In the River Seine he dropped anchor and it held us in the current. We slept soundly in the river as we made our way to Paris. That impressed me greatly. I would never have thought that our anchor would hold us in that swift current. He handled the ship well in the canal to the Saone and on to the Rhone to Marseilles also. But, we did take a pilot on board for the rivers.
Just an aside. When we were traveling the Canal Central to the Saone, I would wake up early and have a conversation with the cows next to us in the pastures. The college kids on the ship woke up to my voice making cow sounds and the cows actually answering back.They broke out in hysterical laughter. I thought it was just natural to speak with the cows.